The World of K'ung Shang-Jen: A Man of Letters in Early Ch'ing China

The World of K'ung Shang-Jen: A Man of Letters in Early Ch'ing China

The World of K'ung Shang-Jen: A Man of Letters in Early Ch'ing China

The World of K'ung Shang-Jen: A Man of Letters in Early Ch'ing China

Excerpt

K'ung Shang-jen is most readily remembered as the author of China's greatest historical drama, The Peach Blossom Fan, but he is also one of those emblematic figures through whom we can see an age. A latter-day descendant of Confucius, he was heir to the central mysteries of Chinese civilization as maintained by his clan at the Confucian shrine of Ch'ü-fu. K'ung himself became an expert in the staging of ritual ceremonies dating back some two thousand years, and when the K'ang-hsi Emperor visited the shrine on one of his tours of inspection, K'ung was fortuitously chosen as lecturer and guide. Through imperial favor, he was meteorically propelled into the highest levels of capital society in Peking and began his close friendships with the leading figures of the early Ch'ing. He was an enthusiastic literatus, official, scholar, connoisseur, and socialite, and his wide-ranging activities provide us with a fascinating view of the artistic, political, and intellectual life of his time.

The seventeenth century in China was a turbulent era of transition. It began in the late Ming in a deceptive atmosphere of cultural romanticism set amidst deepening economic and political contradictions. By the mid-century, the triple threat of peasant rebellion, Manchu invasion, and court factionalism culminated in national catastrophe and the collapse of the Ming. To the Chinese elite, this cataclysmic change was not just another episode in the rise and fall of dynasties. The Ming order, as the successor to the hated Mongols, had represented the greatest flowering of the literati vision and its dismal performance in its final years led to a soul-searching inquiry into the core values of the native civilization. K'ung's own era witnessed the establishment of a new dynasty after decades of suffering and disorder. Yet, the early Ch'ing was . . .

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